August 28, 2007 / 1:01 AM / 12 years ago

Gibson honored on 50th anniversary of U.S. title

Singer Aretha Franklin performs during a tribute to tennis pioneer Althea Gibson at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, August 27, 2007. REUTERS/Shaun Best

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Trailblazer Althea Gibson was the posthumous guest of honor on the opening night of the 2007 U.S. Open on Monday as the 50th anniversary of her U.S. Nationals win was celebrated at the National Tennis Center.

Gibson, who became the first African-American to win the U.S. Nationals, the precursor to the Open, in 1957, was inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions with the unveiling of a plaque to be displayed on the grounds.

A 40-minute salute to Gibson included gospel music, a marching band, a film tribute, remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the introduction of more than a dozen African-American female pioneers from various fields.

Capping off the ceremony was a rousing rendition of “Respect,” sung on centre court by Aretha Franklin.

Gibson, who also became the first African-American to win the French Open and Wimbledon singles championships, died in 2003 aged 76. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

The ceremonies preceded night matches that featured two of the most famous African-Americans to follow Gibson into tennis.

Venus Williams, a six-times grand slam singles winner, was facing qualifier Kira Nagy of Hungary in the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Her sister, Serena Williams, an eight-times grand slam champion, was going against unseeded Angelique Kerber of Germany.

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